Recently, I finished reading Stieg Larsson‘s Millennium Trilogy. I know, I must be one of the last ten people in the Western World to read it, right? I don’t usually read thriller / mystery / detective stories; I am not exactly sure why, but it’s probably because I tend to dislike the Grisham type. I find most crime novels to be a bit on the simple side, more sensational than sensible, more pandering to illicit fantasies than interested in deciphering why it is that people do some really nasty shit to each other. Anyway, this trilogy was obviously more interesting in content and form than the genre often portends. I’m not going to write another book review. There are enough already. I will however comment on a theme in the books and in the reviews themselves: that of Larsson as a daring feminist, one devoted to women’s issues.
I take issue with this description: Larsson was not merely a feminist. He was a humanist, devoted to the interests of all, regardless of gender, competency, or social status. It may be worthwhile to discuss why the most powerful form to represent the disenfranchised is that of a petite, sexually abused woman declared legally and mentally incompetent by men in positions of power — but to reduce Larsson’s novels to a statement on women’s rights is to reduce their value as social commentary in general. The frailty of the disenfranchised is a moral issue for all, regardless of both who the disenfranchised may be and who those in power are. He was very careful to create many characters of power within these novels who are women. In fact, with the exception of Blomkvist and Jonasson, and possibly Palmgren and Armansky, the characters who effect change are female – from the Ph.D. candidate who initially begins the research through the judge of Salander’s trial herself – all are “empowered” women of education and status. Lisbeth herself is a genius, despite her social awkwardness. Larsson is equally delicate in his creation of the characters who love and support them: they are men, also educated and in positions of authority and influence, who prefer to see women as equivalent. The “bad guys” are likewise equally horrid to men and women. These novels are not designed to make men look bad and exploitative; they criticize a culture wherein one group denies the rights and freedoms of another. they are an inditment of amorality, not of gender.
As long as we continue to segment ourselves by gender, race, religion, whatever, we will always be an uneven and exploitative society. When we govern or educate according to differences, we only succeed in further dividing ourselves from each other. Life is not fair; there is no such thing as equal opportunity; everyone gets shafted by someone, somehow, sometime. Everyday, people envy celebrity, beauty, money (but, interestingly, not intelligence or education) – in other words, the “elite” — and at the same time, we stone anyone who attempts to acknowledge superior ability in one area or another. We aren’t allowed to state what we see everyday. Some people are simply smarter or more talented than others, and these are the people who should be in positions of influence and power. Moreover, we each wish we were one of Them. Anyone believing otherwise is delusional. The object ought not to be to pretend that a non-existent “equality” is achievable. The object must be to attempt a just reaction to the injustices of a world that is inherently unfair by people properly qualified through skill and intelligence to rectify wrongs. Trying to prevent inequality is like trying to prevent a common cold; some people are just faster, smarter, prettier, more talented, less tone-deaf than others. Genetically, we’re born that way. So, as a society we have a choice: we can continue to proceed downwards on the path we’re already on, where we try to pretend that people don’t have different gifts or deficiencies, or we can acknowledge our differences and focus on making the best of what we have. If we choose the latter, we then allow ourselves to place capable people with moral accountability in social positions wherein they can protect and assist others. But if we continue with the former approach, we will glorify the ill-equipped and handicap the competent, until we all go down in flames together. Yes, I am saying that Affirmative Action is equivalent to Separate But Equal. And we all know how well that turned out for us. Reverse racism is still racism, just in newer, more fashionable clothes.
Larsson’s brilliance was not in his love of women. It was in his love of humanity and his willingness to describe how we are equal in our differences. We are capable of being extraordinary as individuals and as a society, but only if each one of us is free to be different – while being held to the same standards of morality and responsibility.